President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he was ‘surprised to learn’ he had classified government documents at his D.C. think tank and said he is ‘cooperating fully’ with a Justice Department investigation.
He said he doesn’t know what was in the documents and that his lawyers advised him not to ask.
He defended having the cache of classified material – reported to be on the Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom – as House Republicans formally announced an investigation into the matter.
‘People know I take classified documents classified information seriously,’ Biden said at a press conference in Mexico City with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He said his lawyers found ‘some documents in a box locked cabinet, or at least the closet’ when they were clearing out the office.
He noted that as soon as they realized there were classifed documents in the material ‘they did what they should have done’ and ‘immediately called’ the National Archives.
‘I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken there,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s in the documents.
‘We’re cooperating fully,’ he added.
It was Biden’s first public statement on the matter. Earlier, he ignored questions shouted at him when he was meeting with Trudueau.
The cache of documents covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the UK, CNN reported. The boxes also contained personal Biden family documents, including materials about Beau Biden’s funeral arrangements and condolence letters.
President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet at the 10th North American Leaders’ Summit
President Joe Biden earlier dodged questions about the classified documents found at his think tank in Washington DC, smiling at reporters’ questions during his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
How the Biden documents were discovered
NOVEMBER 2: 10 documents were found while Biden’s attorneys were packing up the DC think tank office to leave.
The files were said to be in a folder inside a locked closet, in a box with other unclassified documents.
NOVEMBER 8: The midterm elections see Biden and his party perform better than expected.
NOVEMBER 18: The Justice Department announces that Jack Smith, former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, will lead an investigation into Trump’s storage of classified documents in his Florida home.
JANUARY 9: The Justice Department announces an investigation has been launched into how the classified documents ended up at Biden’s think tank.
Biden says he was unaware there were any classified documents being held there, and his supporters point out that his own lawyers handed them over – noting that Trump’s team fought to keep hold of his stash.
The files were discovered when Biden’s lawyer saw an envelope that indicated it contained personal files, opened it and saw there were classified documents inside.
The lawyer closed the envelope and called the National Archives, the news network reported.
The files date back to when Biden served as vice president.
Biden’s team turned over several boxes out an abundance of caution, even though many contained personal materials, a source told CNN.
Meanwhile, Republicans on Tuesday announced a formal investigation into the president’s possession of the material.
GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, who is the new House Oversight Chairman, announced Tuesday night he is launching a probe.
He’s sent letters to the National Archives and the White House Counsel’s Office. He asked the Archives for all communications with the Biden team and asked the Counsel’s Office for all information related to the White House’s handling of this matter.
Republicans also want to know why Biden’s team didn’t announce the discovery of theclassified documents until after the midterm elections – with one calling it a ‘cover up.’
‘When you cover up something before an election,’ Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, ‘that is probably a point that needs to be highlighted.’
He said the fact the White House didn’t say ‘a darn thing till after the election looks political me.’
The White House announced late Monday that Biden’s lawyers discovered 10 classified documents in his former office at a Washington think tank on November 2.
That was six days before the midterm election, where Republicans won control of the House but not by the landslide many had predicted.
The announcement of such a discovery likely would have a been a political explosion in the election, akin to the FBI announcing in 2016, 11 days before the election, the discovery of additional Hillary Clinton emails.
The delay in announcing the Biden discovery has sparked fury among the GOP, and many warned they expect the Justice Department to treat Biden like the agency is treating its probe of former President Donald Trump and the documents he had at Mar-a-Lago.
Republican Rep. Don Bacon (left) called it a ‘cover up’ while Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (right) said: ‘Maybe the American people should have known about it’
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the incoming House Judiciary chairman, wouldn’t say if he would investigate the matter.
He said on Tuesday that his committee was focused on ‘what the whistleblowers are saying – talking to us about just the political nature of the Justice Department.’
He pointed out that scope could end up being ‘far reaching.’
And he said Trump was a victim of a double standard.
‘I think everyone sees the double standard there, you know, plus, plus the country got to know about what happened 91 days before the election with President Trump,’ he noted. ‘This happened a week before the election. We didn’t know about it before.’
Additionally, GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the freshly installed Chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines requesting an immediate review and damage assessment on the documents.
‘This discovery of classified information would put President Biden in potential violation of laws protecting national security, including the Espionage Act and Presidential Records Act. Those entrusted with access to classified information have a duty and an obligation to protect it. This issue demands a full and thorough review,’ he wrote.
Democrats, meanwhile, were careful in their response.
‘It’s a concern whenever classified documents are somewhere they shouldn’t be. But we see no evidence of deliberate intent, or obstruction of justice, as we see in the case of Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago,’ said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who was on many of the panels investigating Trump.
And Rep. Pete Aguilar of California accused Republicans of ‘hypocrisy’ and said Biden followed the ‘established process’ in that he turned over the documents as soon as they were discovered.
‘The president is handling this the way that he should,’ he said.
Joe Biden has refused to answer questions about misplacing confidential documents at his think tank while he was vice president
Attorney General Merrick Garland has asked the US attorney in Chicago to review 10 files discovered at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, DC, six days before the midterms in November
A police car is seen outside former President Donald Trump’s residence in Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida on August 8 last year, while the FBI searches for confidential papers from the White House
A photo of the documents seized during the August 8 FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate
The documents are dated to Biden’s service as vice president for President Barack Obama.
President Biden and his White House legal team doesn’t know what is in the documents, CNN reported.
Biden didn’t know the documents were there and was only made aware of them when his personal lawyers informed the White House counsel’s office.
Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department is investigating the matter and deciding whether to appoint a special counsel, like the one investigating Trump’s hoarding of sensitive documents.
Garland selected US Attorney General for the Northern District of Illinois, John Lausch, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, to review the ten classified documents discovered at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
Trump was among the many Republicans demanding answers and, on Tuesday, said it was time for Biden to have a special counsel too.
The former president on Monday pointed out that his own home was raided by the FBI for having classified documents stored there.
‘When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House? These documents were definitely not declassified,’ he wrote on social media.
A special counsel would give the White House a certain type of political cover, allowing officials to refuse Republican requests for an investigation by saying the Justice Department was investigating.
Jack Smith, chief to the DOJ’s public integrity section, was appointed special counsel in charge of the Trump classified documents investigation.
Biden slammed Trump in the wake of the FBI raid for having classified documents in his private South Florida residence.
‘How that could possibly happen? How anyone could be that irresponsible? And I thought what data was in there that would maybe compromise sources and methods?’ he said to CBS’ 60 Minutes. ‘And it just – totally irresponsible.’
Under the Presidential Records Act, all documents from a president’s administration must be turned over to the National Archives – that includes the vice president, which Biden served as at that time.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday night expressed disbelief at the timing of the discovery.
‘Oh really? They just now found them? After all these years?’ he said to reporters on Capitol Hill.
‘President Trump had never been in office before and had just left, came out. Here’s an individual [who] spent his last 40 years in office and still had this from the vice president.’
‘It just shows that they were trying to be political to President Trump,’ he added.
Biden was in Mexico City on Monday for a meeting with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador when the announcement was made. He refused to answer shouted questions as to how the documents ended up inside the offices.
As the press in Mexico City was being ushered out of the meeting room, one reporter yelled out: ‘Mr. President, any response to the discovery of classified documents?’
The president did not respond.
The classified materials included some top-secret files with the ‘sensitive compartmented information facility’ designation, also known as SCIF, which is used for highly sensitive information obtained from intelligence sources.
The White House special counsel said in a statement on Monday: ‘The White House is cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice regarding the discovery of what appear to be Obama-Biden admin records, including a small number of documents with classified markings.’
The office said the documents were in a ‘locked-office’ and the National Archives retrieved them the day after their discovery.
Biden used that Washington DC office from 2017 until the start of the 2020 presidential campaign. His lawyers were packing it up as they prepared to vacate the space.
It is unclear what the classified documents contain, but their discovery follows the raid on Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago resort last year and comes as Republicans begin their investigations into the Biden family.
‘The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the archives,’ special White House counsel Richard Sauber said in the statement. ‘Since that discovery, the president’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden administration documents are appropriately in the possession of the archives.’
The White House emphasized Biden’s attorneys found the documents and promptly turned them over to the Archives.
In Trump’s case, the Archives realized documents from his administration were missing and requested their return.
Trump eventually gave 15 boxes of materials to the agency, which discovered classified documents among them. When federal investigators suspected the former president was holding onto more documents, they got a judge’s permission to search Mar-a-Lago.
That search took place in August and turned up more documents.
The National Archives building in Washington DC